- Associated Press - Saturday, August 5, 2017

WEST BADEN SPRINGS, Ind. (AP) - If you ask Allison (Vogler) Lindsey, cooking is an art.

The kitchen is her studio and food is her medium.

The 29-year-old is currently working as a sous-chef in West Baden Springs Hotel’s Sinclair’s Restaurant. Her relationship with food is lifelong and her passion for it is unmistakable.

Allison grew up in Ireland and, like many people in this community, was raised on home-cooked meals with big portions and hearty flavors.

A product of her environment, Allison, daughter of Tom and Mary Beth Vogler, bought into the hearty food culture. The only girl in the middle of five brothers - Zach, Blake, Nick and Evan - she learned her way around the kitchen helping feed everyone at a young age. She worked at The Chicken Place in Ireland for years. She and her family would show up at reunions with “everything but the kitchen sink.” Her parents at one time owned a corner deli in Jasper and her mom once owned a chocolate shop called Heavenly Delights.

“We’re just food people,” Mary Beth said.

Allison’s family was so good with food that her grandma Ruth Schmitt’s lemon chiffon cake/pie would auction at bake sales for outrageous prices because it was locally famous. But the admiration Ruth received from her friends and neighbors paled compared to the reverence her granddaughter showed her.

“I was so in love with my grandma,” Allison said. “I love her. She has a place in my heart.”

The two would spend afternoons together making jams, memories Allison cherishes deeply. Ruth was diagnosed with lung cancer in spring of 2010, while Allison was in culinary school. Allison would bring her soups to eat and other leftovers from class. Allison remembers receiving a letter from her dying grandmother thanking her for letting her try new food.

“All these things I didn’t know, and she didn’t know, I was now throwing that into her and showing her there’s more art in food,” Allison said.

Sharing new recipes and cooking techniques with her ailing grandmother reinforced Allison’s decision to make a career of cooking.

“I took those small memories of my grandma and ran with it,” she said.

Allison didn’t always want to be a chef.

She arrived at the University of Southern Indiana in 2007 with the idea of being a dental hygienist, which seemed fine until she realized that staring into strangers’ mouths was not entirely appealing to her. Next, she steered toward social work, specifically with older people. But that plan also evaporated when Allison realized she may have difficulty working a job oriented around hardships that others suffer. So she continued at USI with an undecided major until a classmate told her about the culinary arts program at Ivy Tech. Allison didn’t even know such a school existed, at least not in Evansville. Yet that’s what she chose, and that’s what stuck. She graduated with a culinary arts degree in 2010, finally feeling like she was on the right path. Her training changed how she thinks about food. It was no longer about home-cooked meals and big portions. She was introduced to the art of the craft, and she loved it.

She’s been honing her skills and seizing new opportunities ever since.

When her boyfriend, now husband, Stewart Lindsey, was assigned to the naval base in Hawaii in 2011, Allison joined him. She saw an opportunity for adventure and to evolve her culinary skills in a unique way.

Hawaii was a dream life. Besides the fact her rent was $800 a month for a glorified broom closet and she lost 15 pounds while on her budget diet that consisted of many, many mangoes, she describes it as a beautiful time in her life. She worked three jobs, but got the freedom to explore beaches during the day before going to work. Some days she would stroll into the kitchen with salty hair and sandy feet, not bothering to primp before work. That just wasn’t necessary in Hawaii. She had constant access to the beach and a pool she shared with a family that lived next door. Most importantly, Allison received the mentorship of Auntie Camille.

Auntie Camille was a chef who rented out a space at the local racquet club after a period of working out of a food truck. The two of them worked together at weddings, catered events and even provided catering on the set of “Hawaii 5.0” and “Germany’s Next Top Model,” during which Allison had her first-ever celebrity sighting - Heidi Klum. They didn’t get to shake hands because Allison was in the food truck at the time, but she settled for a nod and smile from the other side of the serving window and got back to work.

Camille taught Allison lessons she may not have learned anywhere else and gave her the chance to cook with a unique Hawaiian flair. She learned how to combine food elements from many different Pacific cultures that were prevalent in Hawaii. She learned that kale is actually good if it’s massaged in a vinaigrette before serving. The most important lesson, though, is one Allison still recites to her trainees who think they are not improving: You don’t know what you’ve learned until you leave that place.

“She inspired me a lot,” Allison said of Auntie Camille. “Every place that I’ve worked, even if I was there and thought, ‘I’m not learning anything’… you will not know what you’ve learned until you leave here. There’s at least one thing I’ve learned from every person that I’ve worked with.”

When Stewart’s required duty was up, he decided to return to Indiana to study at Indiana University. So, once again, Allison made another major move. She spent time working at Feast in Bloomington, trying her hand at new recipes every week. Feast was a place where Allison’s homemade goods were immensely popular and her creativity was rewarded. She filled the display cases with baked goods of her own invention. Though a boon for Allison’s creativity, Feast wasn’t a lucrative job to support Allison and Stewart, who is a full-time student.

So, when Chef Ethan, executive chef at West Baden’s Sinclair’s Restaurant, called Allison last April and offered her the job as sous-chef, she accepted.

On a slow night, the kitchen at Sinclair’s Restaurant in West Baden is homey. Everyone mills around, chatting as they chop pepperoncini and pull the shells off lobster tails. Allison shows off a burn she got on a fast night a few weeks ago.

On those fast nights, the huge kitchen somehow shrinks. It’s stressful, the dishes pile up and there never seems to be enough sets of hands to help out.

But this particular Sunday is slow. So Allison sharpens knives for other chefs and throws a mix of fruit, wine and sugar into a pan to make a jam, using her eyes and experience rather than measuring cups. She carefully slices a truffle, saving the scraps in plastic cling wrap for a future loaf of sourdough.

Being a sous-chef means Allison is the “under” chef who works below a kitchen’s executive chef. That’s by definition, but in reality, a sous-chef does everything from designing menus - based on the executive chef’s preferences and seasonal ingredients - to ordering supplies and maintaining kitchen order. The job requires constant awareness of what needs to be done next in the kitchen.

Allison walks back around the front of the kitchen where dishes are waiting to be garnished. She places delicate herbs on steaks and tosses a few scallions onto mashed potatoes swirled into a serving dish. Then she goes back to take her fresh vegetable stock off the stove.

Some weeks she’ll spend 50 or 60 hours at work either in the kitchen or doing paperwork. Her arms are covered in burns and her joints are sore from standing for hours on end. The restaurant business is also competitive by nature, and Allison feels a need to always prove herself and her expertise at every new place she works.

Work pays the bills, but her home kitchen feeds her passion.

At her home in Mitchell, with her own supplies and her own schedule, Allison lets her creativity take over. She keeps her grandma’s memory alive by making and canning all sorts of jams and jellies. As the type of person who detests boredom, Allison never makes the same thing the same exact way when she’s cooking at home. In her own kitchen, she has the freedom to dream up any flavor combination and creation she desires, and deciding what’s next for her and her husband who’s also her taste-tester.

She knows she isn’t ready for babies. The couple plans to evaluate their future once Stewart graduates from IU this December. Allison suspects they’ll travel and she’ll have the chance to cook in more kitchens. Or, maybe she’ll open her own business.

She knows she won’t stop doing what she loves. Working with food, creating not just a meal but an experience, is her art.

“I always say this thing, and I know it sounds cheesy, but it makes me feel so passionate. Being one with the food,” she said. “Be happy … Let the magic and happiness that’s in your heart literally come out and go straight into the food. That love, and that passion. Be one with what you’re working with.”

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Source: Dubois County Herald

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Information from: The Herald, https://www.dcherald.com


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